Taliban’s growing sway in Afghanistan could spike drug flow into India
US and NATO troops withdrawn from Afghanistan; seizure of heroin from fishing boats and at airports in Kerala found war-torn country is origin of drugs: Officials
KOCHI: Repercussions of the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s increasing influence there are being felt across the world, even in Kerala. Indian agencies, especially those involved in anti-narcotics operations, are on alert as they fear that the Taliban’s growth in Afghanistan would lead to a spurt in smuggling of drugs into India and Kerala in the coming months.Sources in the customs department, Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) said the recent spike in seizures of highly-processed drugs like heroin and cocaine across India, including in Kerala, is as an indicator of the Taliban growing influence in Afghanistan.
They said in all the seizures, especially of heroin from fishing boats and at airports in Kerala, it was found that Afghanistan was origin point of the drugs. “Despite the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan for two decades, Taliban ensured that the cultivation of poppy (opium) stayed intact as it is its chief funding source. Afghanistan is the prime cultivator of illegal poppy in the world even though it has been a war zone for 20 years. While US troops destroyed several poppy fields when they captured the land, its illegal cultivation could not be controlled as this was being done in remote areas fully controlled by terrorist groups,” said an NCB official.
The agencies said the cultivation of poppy will rise in Afghanistan now. India is one of the first countries where the smuggled drugs land after they are processed in Afghanistan and Pakistan. To deal with drugs trafficking, the agencies here have enhanced their intelligence networks. “Earlier, porous borders in India’s north-western front which lies close to Pakistan was the drug smuggling route. Since surveillance was increased to prevent the sneaking in of drugs, smugglers are trying sea and air routes,” said the NCB official. As per a UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report, poppy was cultivated in 2.24 lakh hectares of land in Afghanistan in 2020 compared to 1.63 lakh hectares in 2019. The potential production capacity of poppy in Afghanistan is around 6,300 tonnes per year.
“There will be a spurt in narco-terrorism once Taliban gains control of Afghanistan following the complete pullout of foreign troops in the next few months. The situation is alarming as India’s internal security is likely to face challenges,” said G Shreekumar Menon, former DG, National Academy of Customs, Excise and Narcotics (NACEN).
“Drugs trade contributes a majority to Taliban’s funding. If they gain power after the withdrawal of troops, there will be attempts to procure sophisticated weapons for which enormous funds will be required. Poppy cultivation will be hiked which ultimately will be sourced to countries like India. Funds from it will also be used for terrorists activities in Kashmir,” he said. Menon said the sea route was most vulnerable to drugs trafficking and even drones could be used for cross-country movement of drugs.
“It is impossible for agencies to check each and every fishing vessel that ventures into the sea daily. Our country has a vast coastline. And since drones are being used for terrorist activities, attempts to use them for drug trafficking cannot be ruled out. Security activities should be on alert following the developments in Afghanistan,” he said.
A former NCB zonal director said considering the number of fishing vessels in Kerala, security agencies should be on high alert. “The shipping route close to Kerala’s coastline has started to witness an increase in drugs trafficking. It is high time agencies deter smugglers from opening a gateway to bring drugs into the country. Fishing vessels that venture close to the coastlines of Iran and Pakistan should be checked as drugs are often loaded from there,” he said.